Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

War on Women: Improvised Weapons

Written by Jamie Varriale Vélez
 Active Image War on Women pithily describe their sound as "early Metallica meets Bikini Kill," and identify themselves as a "coed feminist punk band," but the tracks on their Improvised Weapons EP frankly sound more metal than punk. In a different context I might mean this as an insult, but not here. Because unbelievably enough, War on Women subvert metal clichés and make them sound relevant. In so doing, they make the genre feel more friendly to those of us who do not fit the straightwhitedude metal stereotype.
War on Women pithily describe their sound as "early Metallica meets Bikini Kill," and identify themselves as a "coed feminist punk band," but the tracks on their Improvised Weapons EP frankly sound more metal than punk. In a different context I might mean this as an insult, but not here. Because unbelievably enough, War on Women subvert metal clichés and make them sound relevant. In so doing, they make the genre feel more friendly to those of us who do not fit the straightwhitedude metal stereotype.

War on Women write almost exclusively in minor keys, but their songs don’t feel overwhelmingly dark. They employ a dual guitar assault, but never clutter with gratuitous soloing. And while their songs are heavy, they aren’t oppressive or weighed down, and they usually have the speed and efficiency of standard four-piece hardcore, an achievement not to be underestimated. The vocals are aggressive, but controlled, as if motivated by a need to share one's story and create something useful from past negative experiences, rather than by some random guy's tired appetite for destruction.

Singer Shawna Potter's voice is both unapologetically feminine and defiantly, strategically unsexy on these songs. Sounding like a more girlish Nancy Wilson, or an angrier Karen O, Potter sings about street harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, complex theories of gender, and the power of communication. While other aging riot grrrl and queercore punks might almost take this sort of thematic content for granted, “metal punks” haven’t typically delved as deep into radical feminist and queer politics, especially mainstream metal bands. Social commentary and critique are not common to the genre; but WoW's songs have the potential to open up a dialogue on why metal doesn't usually talk about these issues.
 
It should come as no surprise that Improvised Weapons was released by Exotic Fever Records (this past February), which is owned and run by Katy Otto. Otto is currently one half of Philadelphia powerhouse Trophy Wife; when she isn't occupied with releasing fearlessly feminist and queer music, she's making it herself. (And, disclaimer, Otto also writes for Sadie.) Given each party's apparent interest in destabilizing traditional categories both socially and musically, this partnership seems like kismet. I look forward to seeing and hearing what will come of it next.

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